Combating Prescription Opioid Abuse

The women and men who work in America’s hospitals witness the toll of the opioid epidemic on patients and the health of their communities every day.

While prescription opioids can be a safe and necessary part of pain management, these drugs also carry serious risks of harm because of the potential for addiction, misuse, overdose and death. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention statistics indicate that more than 14,000 people died from overdoses involving prescription opioids in 2014 in the United States.

Federal lawmakers are paying attention. The Senate earlier this year overwhelmingly passed American Hospital Association-supported legislation to address the crisis, while the House of Representatives recently passed a package of 18 bills, including several AHA-supported measures, on the issue.

The measures would establish a federal multiagency task force to develop pain management guidelines; facilitate the use of opioid overdose reversal drugs; permit partial filling of prescriptions to avoid overuse; and create a Food and Drug Administration advisory committee to review opioids without abuse-deterrent properties before approval. This summer, Congress will work to reconcile the bills to produce a comprehensive measure for President Barack Obama’s signature.

At the same time, hospitals continue to fight the epidemic in their communities, employing a multitude of strategies to address this multifaceted and serious public health problem.

For example, a community health needs assessment conducted by 2015 Foster McGaw Prize for Excellence in Community Service winner Massachusetts General Hospital identified substance abuse as the most pressing health concern in its service area. As a result, Massachusetts General developed a comprehensive new clinical initiative designed to transform care for patients with substance use disorders.

You can read more about hospitals’ efforts on a special webpage on the AHA’s website.

There, you will also find a new patient education resource. Developed with input from CDC subject matter experts as well as hospital clinical and behavioral health leaders, this two-page document outlines evidence-based information about the risks and side effects of opioids. It was designed to help facilitate discussions between health care providers and patients about these risks, as well as alternatives to opioids. It also includes information for patients and consumers about how to store opioids and dispose of unused medications.

I encourage you to visit the website, view the tool and continue the conversation about opioid abuse in your community — and what your hospital is doing to combat it.

Margaret Dahl ( is chair of the American Hospital Association Committee on Governance and a trustee of WellStar Health Network ACO in Marietta, Ga.